The Bard College Bedstead And Belching Society

A little nostalgic interlude, suggested to me by the convergence of two subjects: birthdays and stray commodes.

No, really, there’s a connection. What it is, is that when I was in college — right as the heady Sixties were collapsing into the jaded Seventies — I was a founding member of a little, short-lived secret brotherhood.

Remember the Seventies? If you were there? They were revolting. That brief and, in some quarters, actually sincere flare of Sixties tropism toward some half-formed notion of unity and spiritual awareness and aspiration and generosity and sensual innocence, co-opted after about five minutes into karma-cola and sectarian politics and drug-hustling and an especially dreary form of sexual opportunism.  If I had a dollar bill for every leering, stale-smelling guy old enough to be my father who hit on me during those years because, you know, those college girls “are all into free love,” I could get the dents beat out of my car.

Juvenile pranks were the only refuge.

I was quite close friends in my junior year with a fellow named Paul, just as surfeited as I was with the self-enchanted worldly-wisdom of our peers, who seemed quite certain they had invented sex and were in the process of inventing the future (some were; others were just stoned). We weren’t lovers: actually, he was gay, which in those days was a much more complicated thing to be. He could play and sing the hell out of Noel Coward and Cole Porter, and leapt up with delight when I played him the music of Flanders and Swann:

Eventually he would demonstrate a bad habit of dropping female friends like hot potatoes when an appealing gentleman crossed his path — rudely, in fact meanly — but for a time, we were both unattached and mischievous. So we founded a “society for putting broken bedsteads in the ponds,” per the song. There were always a few fragmentary bedsteads around the dormitories, and there was a pool with a fountain on the North Campus and…. well, you can imagine the rest. (Paul — I bothered to look him up on Facebook just now — ended up as a senior librarian at one of the Ivies. If only they knew…)

We branched out. An unattached commode was sighted on one of our random conversational walks, and made its debut in the President’s wife’s rock garden just when she was giving a tour to visitors.

Placed by
The Bard College Bedstead and Belching Society
April, 1973

(We experimented with harmonic belching in the dining room at early breakfasts: it seemed like an amusing idea at the time.)

There were  a half dozen or so of us by our senior year. The final commode placement was on the north gate of the College the weekend of Parents’ Day: we cemented it on with the lid raised and the college motto engrossed in bold letters. Somehow, members of the Society retrieved it after it was chiseled off, and after spray-painting it gold, filled it with carnations and baby’s breath and introduced it into my dormitory room by covert means on the very day of my twentieth birthday. It is a hell of a thing when you open your door and find yourself face to face with a floral tribute blooming out of the bowl of a golden toilet.

Which is why this resurgent trend of alfresco commodes on or about my birthday makes me, well, nostalgic and twitchy at the same time.

But has hardly spoilt my birthday weekend. Stay tuned.


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